I know I probably won’t change many minds when it comes to the events in New York involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr. Those who believe Stewart did wrong have already convicted him. Those who support him will not relent that he might have done something wrong. Such is your right and such is the way it has become in this instant information society.
I don’t claim to know Tony Stewart. I am just a local sports reporter, with dreams of covering NASCAR on a bigger scale someday. I have interviewed Stewart maybe a dozen times in my 13 or so years of covering the sport. The one time I got to spend a little time away from the track with him, I found him charming and funny. But I have also been on the wrong end of a Tony Stewart bad day.
I never met Kevin Ward, Jr. At 20, his life was taken far too soon. Those that did know him say he was a good kid with a passion for racing. He had been behind a wheel since he was four. And he was pretty good at it too, winning the 2010 Rookie of the Year honor in Empire Super Sprints.
This is what I do know; if I was either man, I would not want the events of Saturday night to define me, not until we know for sure what happened. And we may never know. So I am asking people, no matter what side you fall on here, who you think is to blame, to just take a step back and consider these are real people, a real life was lost and many others changed forever.
For starters, let’s stop blaming Ward for getting out of his car. Was it the smartest decision he could have made? Of course not. Is he the first driver to ever do it? Again, of course not. Just go to YouTube and search Kurt Busch or Ward Burton or even Tony Stewart himself and you can find examples of drivers doing what Ward did.
It doesn’t make it right; it just makes it a thing drivers do. Ward paid the ultimate price for a decision he made in a fit of anger. We have all made poor decisions in those types of moments, and there but for the grace of God go I.
Also, lets tamper down the Tony Stewart is a hot head talk a bit. Yes, Tony Stewart can be a hot head. Yes Tony Stewart had to go to NASCAR ordered anger management. But some of what is out there right now is just way over the line. Stewart has never intentionally hit a crew member. And the sound bite of Stewart saying he was going to “run over” Matt Kenseth is being taken out of context. First of all, he meant in the race car, not while he was on foot. Second of all, he really didn’t mean it as far as I can tell. Stewart never made good on that promise of two years ago. Haven’t we all said stuff when we were mad that we regretted later?
Another thing, this is NOT a NASCAR issue. Yes it involved a NASCAR driver, but those calling for government regulation or intervention in NASCAR are so off the mark, they aren’t even on the board. If an NFL player hurts someone during a backyard flag football game should the government go after the NFL? You may not like racing, you may not understand it, but this is not the time to attack it. This has nothing to do with NASCAR. Sprint Cars and the Sprint Cup are not the same thing.
Finally, I am begging anyone out there with a public opinion about what happened, to do a little research on Sprint Cars first. They are not like the car in your garage, they are not like a dirt modified and they are definitely not like a stock car. They only have one gear, you sometimes use the throttle to steer them and under a caution they usually have to run a pretty good speed because of the lack of gears. You cannot watch the video and judge the way Stewart reacted, based on how you would react in a car driving down the street. I have talked to a number of experienced racers and not one agrees completely with the other as to what happened. Because based on the video you just can’t tell. Only Tony Stewart knows for sure.
My heart breaks for Ward and his family this is a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided. My heart breaks for Stewart as well. He will have to live with what happened for the rest of his life.
I can’t “take sides” on this one. I don’t know nearly enough of the facts about what happened. But I do know this. I would never want someone to judge me based on the worst day of my life. And whether you think Stewart was at fault or Ward, Saturday was the worst day for different reasons in both men’s lives, and one’s life ended way too soon as a result.